UPDATE: At 6 p.m., dozens of Arapahoe County Sheriff’s deputies and Aurora Police officers arrived wearing riot gear and armed with billy clubs and rifles. They slowly encircled each group of four protesters blocking the ICE office entrance, separating each one at time and arresting them one by one. Supporters remained outside of the police line, slinging taunts at the officers, singing and chanting. Officers remained mostly quiet and still. More than an hour after they arrived, officers were still breaking up the human blockades. By 7:30, all had been arrested. Supporters cheered loudly as the last was taken into custody.
On Sunday evening, immigration activists hunkered down for a week of occupation on the public sidewalk in front of Immigration and Customs Enforcement local headquarters in Centennial. Their group slowly grew over the week, and on Thursday, activists ratcheted things up with a loud rally. At its center were eight young activists who, in two groups, blocked the entrance to the facility with arms connected inside of large cylinders. Organizers said they contained chains linking both groups together (though the mechanism inside appeared less permanent after two activists switched places a few hours into the action).
Jeanette Vizguerra, an immigration activist who lived in sanctuary to avoid deportation in 2017, said on Monday that the group was demanding the reunification of families separated at the border, an end to deportations for parents who have been in U.S. for more than 10 years, and improved conditions at the GEO private immigration detention center in Aurora. Unless those demands were somehow met on Thursday, organizer Jennifer Piper said members of the human blockade would remain chained and in front of ICE headquarters until they are cut free by police and arrested.
Protesters chanted and marched in front of the human blockade as homeland security police officers accumulated around the site. Officials periodically announced through their trucks’ PA systems that their action was “unlawful.”
“It’s going great. We’ve got a ton of support from the community,” said activist Dillon Williams, who’s been present since Sunday night. He thinks their presence is having an affect because he said authorities granted a stay to the only undocumented person who checked in with ICE on Wednesday. He also said check-ins dropped substantially yesterday, and suspects authorities have postponed appointments because of their presence.
“They won’t move people in and out,” he said, although one man with a check-in did have to cross the picket line on Thursday to enter the building.
Virginia Calderon attended the rally with her two kids. She said she’s been activated since the father of her son was deported to Mexico. They’ve lived in the U.S for almost 20 years.
While family separation at the border has stoked a movement across the county calling for ICE to be “abolished,” Calderon said family separation has long been the result of deportations.
“We’re living a very difficult time in this country,” she said. People she knows who are in a similar position, “they are broken families.”
She said her son, who is nearly four years old, “regressed” back to wearing a diaper and sucking his thumb after his father was sent to Mexico. She has him seeing a therapist, who told her the boy is trying to access a time in his life when he felt safe. Her daughter is also getting psychological counseling.
The action at ICE headquarters, she said, gives her hope.
“I feel like this is the start of something big,” she said. “I don’t want to fight with anybody, I just want them to understand we are the same and we deserve to be here, together.”
Other ICE protests around the country have resulted in arrests. In Boston, 11 people were arrested Tuesday after sitting in the road to protest Northeastern University’s research contract with ICE. Police in Philadelphia on Monday reportedly shut down an “Occupy ICE” camp near City Hall, resulting in protestors being placed in handcuffs. Similar protesters in Louisville, Kentucky, were arrested last week after they reportedly blocked entry to an immigration court.
On Thursday, an unlikely new voice surfaced in the criticism of the family separation policy: Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter, said the family separations at the border, “was a low point” during her time at the White House. According to CNN, the comments were made during a conversation on workforce development in Washington. During the conversation, Ivanka Trump said she was, “very vehemently against family separation and the separation of parents and children.”
As of 1 p.m. on Thursday, nobody had been arrested in Centennial.
This story has been updated throughout as events unfolded.